As a Christian, it is inevitable that you will be called judgmental for bringing up a particular Scripture or for quoting Jesus’ words in the middle of a discussion about sin, sinful habits or sinful lifestyles. Though some accusations about being judgmental are warranted, particularly on the Internet as there is a healthy cabal of watch bloggers out there that tread over the line, many (perhaps even most) of the accusations that fly about being judgmental are really just code for “I just don’t like what the Bible has to say about sin and how it judges the way I live and think.” And let’s face it. In this emotionally fragile culture we live in, perception is often substituted for reality and what one feels and thinks in their heart is almost always deemed right and true, no matter the contrary evidence.
Christians, however, are not blameless when it comes to our culture’s propensity to use “Judge not” and “You’re just being judgmental” to shield them from the Gospel. And this is largely because we (you, me, the Church) have written and preached so little about the distinctions between what being judgmental really is and what the Gospel has to say about sin. And notice that I did not say how Christians condemn each other, but how the Gospel condemns the sin in our lives and the life of the unbeliever. This is an important distinction that is often missed, and often because Christians back down so readily when they are charged with being legalistic or judgmental for conveying what the Gospel says.
Now for proof of the Gospel’s condemnation of sin and unbelief, consider Jesus’ own words, just two verses after the most famous verse in the Bible, when he says:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. – John 3:18
The Gospel is clear that belief in Jesus is absolutely necessary to have eternal life. It is also clear that unbelief and sin are not mutually exclusive things, but the same thing.
Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. – 1 John 3:7-10 (ESV)
When we Christians stress the necessity of righteousness by quoting Scripture, we are not stressing it for the purposes of getting someone saved through rule keeping (for salvation only comes through faith in Jesus) or to make us feel better about ourselves. We stress Scripture’s hard sayings to make sure that we and everyone who will hear us remain faithful to Christ in order to enter eternal life.
Was Jesus Judgmental?
Now if you say that Jesus was judgmental and therefore Christians are judgmental, then I don’t know what we’re really talking about here. Jesus is the foundation of the Christian faith. If you believe that Jesus is a sinner then you’ve already decided that the Christian faith is invalid and worthless – for Christianity hinges on a sinless Jesus taking the cross up for our sins. And even if you try continue on with some other idea, all while maintaining that Jesus was a good man but sinned like all of us, then you’re just following your own religion.
But if you believe that Jesus was not judgmental then we should be able to say that what Jesus did and said should be the model for our lives when it comes to preaching the Gospel and avoiding judging others.
What’s remarkable about Jesus’ ministry is that he did not condemn anyone. Even in his most ferocious exchanges with the Pharisees, Jesus stopped short of condemning his enemies to hell:
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation. – Matthew 23:33-36
Of course, there are time and place considerations with Jesus’ words here. It would be inappropriate to begin most conversations by calling a friend or enemies a snake, and clearly Jesus’ scathing rebuke here, during his final public exchange with his enemies, was the result of three and half years of pent up abuses and false accusations that he had endured. But the point remains that telling what the Gospel says and how it exposes sins is not being judgmental. It is not the same as condemning one’s enemies to hell.
In fact, Jesus’ boldness and mercy were both hallmarks of his ministry.
Consider the passage above again. Jesus calls his enemies a pack of snakes after laying out a long list of sins that Jesus accused the Pharisees of committing to line their pockets and to consolidate their power – and all while keeping up a good public appearance. In both serious and forceful terms, Jesus lambasted the religious authority publicly in a way that the average American would readily have branded as being judgmental and legalistic.
Yet Jesus was completely accurate in his rebukes and the force of his tone on tender ears hardly compares with the eternity of misery that awaited his hearers unless they repented. It’s also worth noting the dozens of other less confrontational passages such as the rich young man who came to Jesus looking for eternal life and Jesus exposes his sin by simply saying: “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). Was Jesus judging the man? Was he being judgmental? Did he send him away and condemn him to hell? Actually, no. It was the rich man who went away sad and unbelieving, and it was Jesus who looked on him and loved him even though he knew the man wouldn’t believe.
In John 8, there is a remarkable story about an adulterous woman who is about to be stoned by a mob after being caught in the act. The mob asks Jesus his opinion (looking for consent really) about the matter, and after a brief exchange each of the woman’s accusers drop their stones and leave the scene one by one after hearing Jesus’ reply. And, of course, it’s the end of the story that is the most satisfying when Jesus says to the woman: “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” – John 8:11. So here we have a clear example of Jesus’ refusal to condemn an obvious violation of God’s Law while still telling the woman to stop sinning. And this account not only teaches us a great lesson, but demonstrate to us Christ’s great mercy which is a critical distinction between being judgmental and being faithful in preaching his Gospel.
For look just 12 verses later in John 8, as Jesus is again debating the religious authorities and says:
But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.”
Do you see Jesus the stopping short of condemnation again when he says “if you do not believe…”? And yet notice that Jesus is also very frank about sin and the consequences of sin – a thing you find all throughout the Gospels including the day of Jesus’ death when he speaks to Pilate and tells him plainly that though he had sinned, those who handed him over had committed an even greater sin.
Yet even here at Jesus’ death, despite freely talking about the sins of Pilate and the Pharisees just before being nailed to the cross, Jesus forgives his enemies on the cross. This is the key distinction. Jesus spoke the Gospel plainly, even forcefully on occasion, and though he came to this earth as God in human flesh with all divine power and authority to judge, he did not condemn his enemies or judge.
Being judgmental is not telling others that the Gospel judges the conduct of their lives and that there is a Judge who will condemn or pardon souls on the last day. Being judgmental is demanding justice under the Law without an offer of mercy, particularly when the one judging just as guilty. It is presuming the place of God though an air of moral superiority or perfection. Though there is only one who was Superior and Perfect, while he was here among us, he did not judge. We should do likewise.